When I went to Philadelphia, I didn’t want to just try a cheesesteak. I wanted to try the BEST cheesesteak in Philadelphia and I think I found it! But keep in mind that I’m no cheesesteak expert.
I’ve lived a pretty good life. I may have been a slow starter, or late bloomer, or whatever, but I’ve learned to take life by the horns and go for the gusto. When it comes to food anyway.
I grew up in a small coastal town on the Chesapeake Bay. Okay, I grew up in the sticks. We were just happy when we finally got a McDonald’s in town. Pizza, to me, was a thin cardboard rectangular crust with a layer of cheese dripping with puddles of grease on top. Chinese food came from LaChoy and came out of a can.
Then I moved to Cleveland, Ohio. Now Cleveland may not be known for its culinary treasures but it was there I got my first taste of Thai food, buffalo wings, pierogies, and real Chinese food. I fell in love with it all and that love affair continues on. My most memorable travel experiences always involve the food I ate.
My most recent trip to Philadelphia was no exception.
When you go to Philadelphia, what do you eat? That’s rhetorical, of course, because everyone knows you have to have a cheesesteak.
When I tweeted that I was on my way up to the city of brotherly love, I got a nice tweet back from Cord Silverstein, a local marketing guru, who told me that he is originally from there. So my next logical question was where to get an ooey, gooey, honest-to-goodness, Philly cheesesteak. His recommendations? Jim’s or Pat’s.
Jim’s or Pat’s? No fancy names like “The Greatest All-American Cheesesteak in All of Philadelphia”? Or “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Excellent Cheesesteak”? Where was the marketing creativity?
I asked one of the local women at the conference on Friday night. She promptly told me Pat’s or Geno’s, but that she preferred Geno’s because the chopped steak at Pat’s reminded her of something that might come out of a can for her canine friends. Hmmm. Guess it was on to Geno’s, then.
On Saturday, as hunger pains started setting in during my conference in Philly, I casually took out my iPad to “take notes” and secretly scout out what might be the best choice for my cheesesteak. I had no idea what I was in for.
It’s Pat’s or Geno’s. Or Pat’s or Jim’s. Or Jim’s or Tony Luke’s. There’s what the locals eat and what the tourists eat. There’s a preference in taste, texture, toppings, meat (some recommended pork), location, staff, history. You name it and everyone has an opinion.
Turns out Pat’s and Geno’s are probably the most well known and right across the street from each other so my traveling companion, Amy, and I headed in that vicinity to make our decision upon arrival.
First impression of Geno’s? I think I did a time warp to Las Vegas to their newest cheesesteak-themed hotel called Geno’s. I didn’t make my decision solely on that but let me show you Pat’s, across the street.
Quiet, unassuming, with an air of authenticity. This looked like the kind of place that has stood the test of time. I made my choice. I was going to Pat’s. No looking back.
I had been warned explicitly about how to order my sandwich. Trina, a local blogger who knows her food, told me that I needed to order it “wit” or “witout.” That would indicate my preference for onions or not. Now for the arguably the most important part of the cheesesteak… the cheese. I wanted the ooey, gooey kind. Thankfully, Trina again told me that I needed to ask for “whiz” which one can only assume refers to deliciously pasteurized process cheese spread affectionately known as Cheese Whiz.
It’s a walk up counter and it’s cash only. I felt nervous. I knew I was going to screw this up. I studied the menu board intently.
I was snapped back to reality by the guy behind the counter saying “there’s nothing on that board that I can’t already tell you.”
I walked up.
“I’d like a cheesesteak. Wit. Whiz.”
I sounded like Queen Elizabeth trying to speak slang. It came out all wrong. But I did it. I got it out. I was a natural! Until he looked at me and said you look like a schoolteacher. He didn’t mean it in the hot-sexy-wish-my-teacher-had-looked-like-you way. He meant it in the you-have-your-hair-in-ponytails-and-are-wearing-glasses-and-look-like-a-school-marm way. I shrunk, until Amy sprung to my rescue and said, “she’s actually a stripper.”
Suddenly, I got my cheesesteak with a smile and it was perfect in every way.
Think someone with a petite frame like mine has a petite appetite? Not a chance. I ate every. last. bite.
And as I was finishing, I started to panic about the fact that I may never make it back to Philadelphia. The paper beneath my sandwich was taunting me.
“THIS IS OUR ONLY STORE”
Then I looked up from my wrapper only to see a sign from God. Another location!
Turns out it was only cruel mockery. They tried a store in Atlantic City but it just didn’t make it. I would have to find my way back to Pat’s again some way, some how to experience this heaven in a wrapper…
Anyone up for a roadtrip next weekend?